On June 30 the Sprint Nextel iDEN network will be decommissioned. Users who opted not to migrate to the new CDMA Sprint Direct Connect (SDC) alternative network will have their iDEN services shut off.
“We are ahead of schedule,” said Brent Kohman, marketing manager of business retention with Sprint Nextel. “Things are going well from a transfer perspective.”
SDC has more than 1 million subscribers. According to the company’s latest earnings call, one-third of the Nextel platform subscriber base moved off the platform in the quarter, and the company recaptured 51 percent of the postpaid Nextel deactivations and 50 percent of the prepaid deactivations.
At the end of 2012, Sprint had approximately 2.1 million subscribers remaining on the Nextel platform, 1.6 million of which were postpaid. The operational shut down plans for the platform will be similar to that of the thinning process the company engaged in last year — the network will be shut down at switch locations in rapid succession, followed by powering down equipment and eliminating backhaul at each cell site, which is expect to be substantially complete within 90 days, according to the latest earnings call.
The push-to-talk (PTT) feature, a main service of the iDEN network, attracts many industry segments including utility, gas and electric, transportation, construction and field services.
The new CDMA SDC network offers the same key features as iDEN, including PTT and group services, but with the larger CDMA service footprint for voice and data. Users will also have access to 3G capabilities and eventually 4G, which were not available to iDEN customers. The price is very comparable, and in most cases, from a service plan perspective, it is exactly the same, Kohman said.
Sprint has largely focused its transition efforts on current iDEN customers. “We are targeting all of our existing customers right now,” he said. While the VHF and UHF narrowbanding mandate offered opportunities for new customers, some of Sprint’s LMR users chose to supplement their systems with Sprint iDEN/Direct Connect.
“Today there are customers that utilized LMR systems that use iDEN as augmentation to those systems,” said Kohman. To aid LMR customers, Sprint is working with LMR console manufacturers for integration purposes. “We’re integrated with three vendors today that offer LMR systems, and our devices can be used with those systems,” he said. The three vendors are Avtec, Telex Radio Dispatch and Zetron.
For Nextel iDEN customers, the transition path is straightforward. “From a consumer perspective, it’s about swapping devices,” Kohman said. “On the business side, we have our teams working with customers developing migration plans to help them move.”
“Sprint is operating two networks right now, and by consolidating our networks and offerings to one, there are obvious advantages to our customers and to Sprint from an operating perspective,” he said. “Most of our competitors only operate one system today.”
One of Sprint’s competitors, AT&T, recently launched its own PTT service
. The AT&T Enhanced PTT supports PTT communications and wireless data services, integration with business applications and interoperability with existing mobile radio systems, including LMR. The service works on AT&T’s 3G, 4G and 700 MHz Long Term Evolution (LTE) networks.
“I think Sprint compares very favorably to every competitive offering out in the market today,” said Kohman. “Obviously we’ve been in this game for years with our Nextel heritage. We have the experience and we’ve worked with our customers for a long time. That experience has been parlayed into our Direct Connect system.”